Monday, December 06, 2021

Hometown pride abounds in virtual happy place

| October 31, 2021 12:00 AM

When life gets hard we tend to seek out those happy places that give us comfort and take us away from the day’s toil. One of my favorite getaways in recent months, albeit a virtual escape, has been a Facebook group called Hawley, Minnesota Then and Now.

The page is a place where people from my small hometown post interesting stories and often historical accounts of people who had a hand in shaping the community. I’ve gained so much insight about town leaders, teachers, pastors and others whose lives connected with mine when I was growing up on a dairy farm 7 miles south of Hawley.

One of the most intriguing stories of late was an account posted by Don Roos that explained his father Norman Roos’ military service during World War II. The elder Mr. Roos, who died in 2008, was a longtime history and social studies teacher at Hawley High School and I had a couple of classes with him.

I recall Mr. Roos as a tall, lanky man with a wry sense of humor and a smile that kind of cocked to one side of his mouth. He was a very good teacher, and a consummate community leader, even serving as mayor for a decade.

I never remember Mr. Roos sharing any of his military experiences with the class, though. So it was surprising to me and many other former students, I’m sure, to learn that after flight training in the Army Air Corps, he was transferred to navigator school and then assigned to the C-47 paratrooper transport.

As he flew out on Dec. 22, 1944, “he did not even know their destination to plot the course until they were airborne,” his son wrote. “The orders were sealed until they were off the ground. ... He had one of his most difficult assignments right off the bat by having to find Ascension Island from Brazil (which is a tiny little island in the middle of the Atlantic). They had no radar and the stars were difficult to see most of the time. He had to figure the drift based on looking at the waves far below. This is called ‘dead reckoning.’ … This great responsibility he faced with determination and humility.”

Mr. Roos flew 45 missions over Europe. His son shared that “some of his most difficult missions, psychologically, were transporting prisoners of war from Germany back to France and England, because they were in such bad shape from malnutrition, wasting and disease.”

His feats of bravery now live on as part of this special Facebook group, providing such wonderful insight to his former students.

Other Hawley teachers also have been lauded for their accomplishments. My junior high band teacher John Elton comes to mind. His selfless dedication to our school’s music program is renowned among those he taught.

And it’s not just teachers who get a shout out on the Facebook page. Hawley High graduate Chris Kenny, who was an outstanding vocalist from the get-go, recently made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City and had a starring role in “Fire Shut up in My Bones.”

You could almost hear the buttons popping with pride as the Hawley locals marveled online at this young man’s vocal accomplishments.

This Facebook group has reinvigorated the pride I have of being from Hawley. It remains a community of fine people who are bringing up generations of fine people. Some stories just need to be told, and retold, to remind us of what’s special about our hometowns.

News editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 406-758-4421 or